Canada's Davis Cup team would rather play in a packed stadium of 15,000 screaming fans than in front of no-one — even if those fans are cheering for the other team.
Canada faces Serbia in the World Group semifinals in September on the temporary clay court at Belgrades' Kombank Arena, one of the largest indoor arenas in the world.
"We've seen the footage from that arena, and it's fantastic," team captain Martin Laurendeau said on a conference call Monday. "That's what the guys train for, they live for those moments and opportunities where it means so much. As much as it will be a challenge, any player would rather play in an environment like that than playing in front of nobody. It all makes for great excitement."
Kombank Arena hosted a Fed Cup World Group II tie between Serbia and Japan in 2009 that drew 15,118 fans — a record for an ITF event.
Canada's Davis Cup team has been fortunate in its run to the World Group semis, picking its favoured venue and playing surface in its last three ties.
That all ends in Belgrade after the Serbian Tennis Federation announced the Sept. 13-15 semifinal tie will be held on clay in the Serbian capital.
Canada favours a hard surface to compliment the blistering serve of top player Milos Raonic, which is less effective on the deadening clay courts.
"That's the nature of Davis Cup," Laurendeau said. "Our team will spend the next several months preparing for those conditions to the best of our ability."
Laurendeau said there's some measure of comfort in the fact the Canadian players have ties to that part of the world. Raonic is from Montenegro, veteran doubles player Daniel Nestor was born in Belgrade, and Frank Dancevic has Croatian parents.
"Some of the guys have already touched on that, they're looking forward to playing there, and seeing family and friends and relatives and not feeling so out of place, not as out of place for sure as we would be if we were to be if we were playing in Central or South America," Laurendeau said. "There is a sense of something a bit more comfortable. Of all the ties you can play away, for a lot of our guys it's not all that bad to end up there."
Still, comfort level will only go so far for a Canadian team that will be playing in enemy territory in its first ever Davis Cup semifinal.
"Just from YouTube videos, from watching Davis Cups played in Serbia, I think in the heat of the battle, the fans will really be a force to reckon with so we'll have to go through that ordeal, whether some of them have some kind of heritage from there or not," Laurendeau said.
The Canadians advanced with wins over Spain and Italy. Serbia, the 2010 champion led by superstar Novak Djokovic, defeated Belgium and the United States to reach the semifinal with Canada.
No. 13-ranked Raonic led Canada to its historic quarter-final tie over Italy, beating Andreas Seppi in the deciding match.
Jesse Levine, who recently switched allegiances to play for Canada after representing the U.S., wasn't on the team that faced Italy in Vancouver. At No. 94, he's Canada's second-ranked singles player. Vasek Pospisil was Canada's second singles player versus Italy, and teamed up with Nestor in doubles.
When asked Monday if Levine — who has an American father and Canadian mother and grew up in Ottawa — will pull on the Canadian jersey in Serbia, Laurendeau said "a lot of it rests on his shoulders, like the other guys."
"There's a lot of tennis to be played and the guys will have to show their form between now and then," Laurendeau said. "He'll have plenty of opportunities and plenty of surfaces, from clay to grass to hard courts.
"Everyone knows the No. 1 spot is pretty locked in but not so much the other one. So it's a good thing, I think it will push everybody to excel and to be the best they can be. I'm sure Jesse's turn will come, I'm not sure when, but for now he's in the run like everybody else. We'll just have to see who's healthy and who's in good form."